Archive for January, 2009

You don’t have to clip coupons to save cash (AP)

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 | Finance News

NEW YORK – It's easy to get sloppy with your finances when times are good: adding a premium cable channel, signing up for the deluxe gym membership or reaching for the pricey Italian coffee. "But there's nothing like a good old fashioned recession to remind people you can't be sloppy all the time," said Eric Tyson, author of "Personal Finance for Dummies."

As the nation tries to tighten its collective belt, it might seem difficult to find any penny-pinching measures that can save big dollars. "Don't fall into the mind-set that 'We're doing all we can already,'" Tyson advised. "Everybody has fat in their budget. Question why you're doing what you're doing."

The Associated Press asked four financial experts for tips to save money on everyday expenses — without clipping coupons. Their ideas ran the gamut from learning to cook to how to cut hundreds off your heating bill.

Just as important as the strategies they advocate are the financial exercises behind them. Scrutinizing ongoing spending, mining discounts from existing accounts and searching for extras you may not be utilizing that can be painlessly cut should help spark ideas for even more ways to trim costs on your own.

First, know where the money goes.

• Comb through checking account and credit card statements to get a clear view of your habits. It's what Tyson calls, "The sometimes tedious and painful process of looking where you're spending your money."

• One savings source that may be immediately apparent: the extra fees and charges on various accounts. From ATM fees that pile up, to late charges and over-limit fees, many people can save hundreds of dollars a year by adopting more careful money management habits. And taking a good look at what you spend your money on can help define priorities that can save you even more.

Look for savings at the grocery store.

• Kick the bottled water habit. Tyson notes bottled water drinkers can spend $600 to $800 a year, but a good home filtration system runs about $200. "You'll pay for it in a couple of months and then you'll save a lot of money on bottled water."

• "Tightwad Tod" Marks, who blogs about penny pinching for, suggests only buying items that are on sale. Read through advertisements and stock up on things like cereals, pasta, juices and other staples, he advises. "All this stuff goes on sale at predictable intervals," he says.

• Buy private label brands, Marks adds. For many items, from peanut butter to hot cereal, tea bags to sandwich bags, there is little or no difference in quality, and you can save 20 to 50 percent.

_Shop in warehouse clubs and buy nonperishable goods like paper products, cleaning supplies and even coffee in bulk. But watch out for unplanned purchases. "The deals are so good you can end up in the poor house," Marks says. "It requires tremendous discipline."

• Learn how to cook, Tyson recommends. Many people spend heavily on take-out or processed foods because they can't prepare a meal, but learning a few basic dishes can save countless dollars over the years.

Examine existing accounts.

• Ramit Sethi, author of the blog, advises using major credit cards to make big purchases like refrigerators and home electronics, which nearly always results in a one-year warranty extension. That eliminates any reason to purchase an extended warranty from the store.

• Check your credit card, insurance company and other account Web sites for shopping discounts. Many companies offer customers a chance at extra discounts by linking to retail sites. Sethi notes some card companies also offer extra rewards points if you begin your shopping on their site. Warehouse clubs also frequently offer Web site discounts for members.

• Take advantage of discounts offered through memberships in the AAA, business organizations and social groups like the AARP when traveling, suggests Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, author of "Zero Debt," and other books, who bills herself as "The Money Coach." Asking what discounts might be available is sometimes all it takes to find out that hotels and restaurants offer special rates.

• Review insurance accounts and try to trim costs by eliminating unneeded coverage, for instance collision insurance on an older car. Shifting several insurance accounts to one company may also activate multiple policy discounts, says Khalfani-Cox.

• Savings of 25 percent or more may be possible by raising deductibles on homeowners' insurance or auto policies, she says, but cautions not to increase deductibles beyond what you can reasonably afford to pay if a problem occurs.

Trim costs around the house.

• Sethi advocates spending "a la carte" instead of automatically paying higher rates for subscriptions and ongoing services. "It's a bit surprising, we tend to think that if we're on a subscription basis, we're getting savings," he says. But you may be able to save $40 to $50 a month, for instance, by cutting back on the add-ons for your cable service.

Other places this strategy may work include reducing a Netflix subscription to the least expensive option, or cutting it out altogether and getting films from the library or watching free programs online. Also try paring back your cell phone options to a low number of minutes and text messages, rather than unlimited service.

• Hardcore savers might want to try this tip from Marks: he keeps his home thermostat set at 60 degrees and heats the rooms where his family spends the most time with efficient electric baseboard heaters. "It saves more than $200 a month on what it would cost to heat the home when keeping the thermostat at 68."


World crisis deepens as downturn bites in Asia (AFP)

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 | Finance News

Grim economic news from China and Japan showed the global crisis hitting ever harder Thursday, burning Asia's champion exporters while data from the United States signalled more pain to come.

China's powerhouse economy slowed dramatically at the end of 2008, dragging growth of the world's third-largest economy to a seven-year low, official data showed, in a striking sign of the current downturn's strength and reach.

Japan meanwhile warned it was facing a two-year recession and announced new measures to repair battered credit markets after announcing a 35-percent plunge in exports in December.

"Exports tumbled so much that you cannot believe your eyes," said Naoki Murakami, chief economist at Monex Securities in Japan.

After breathtaking economic growth in recent decades, China had been widely tipped to ride out the world economic storm that has driven the world's biggest economies into recession.

But with the Asian giant now gravely suffering too, reporting just 6.8 percent growth in the last quarter of 2008, signs emerged on Thursday of a knock-on effect, with Australia warning of the impact on its own prospects.

"The Chinese boom that supercharged Australia's economy over the past five to seven years is receding rapidly," Australia's Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner told reporters.

South Korea said its economy was in the worst shape since the East Asian financial crisis a decade ago while Singapore announced a 13-billion-dollar (10-billion-euro) stimulus package and said it would tap its vast financial reserves for the first time.

US data released Thursday showed unemployment claims hit a 26-year high and housing construction fell to half-century lows, highlighting the depths of the recession facing the new administration of Barack Obama.

"The underlying trend in (jobless) claims is still upwards and we have no hope that the peak is anywhere near," said Ian Shepherdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics.

"The corporate sector is rolling over and we probably have not yet seen many job losses stemming from the sudden collapse in international trade."

On the industrial front, US software giant Microsoft said on Thursday it was cutting up to 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months due to "the further deterioration of global economic conditions."

Italy's national auto champion, Fiat, slashed its 2009 forecasts due to slumping demand and said it would not pay shareholders a 2008 dividend.

And in Helsinki Nokia, the world's leading mobile phone maker, reported a near 70 percent drop in its fourth-quarter net profit.

In Europe, meanwhile there were fresh signs of upheaval in the financial sector, where shares in troubled banks faced more pressure.

Belgian authorities moved to bail out lender KBC, providing up to 3.5 billion euros, and Germany was working on a new rescue package for its banks as last year's 480-billion-euro effort failed to get them lending again.

The financial crisis showed it had further to run as Portugal on Wednesday followed Spain and Greece in having its sovereign debt downgraded by the ratings agency Standard and Poor's.

Some fear such downgrades could increase strains in the 16-nation eurozone where investors are discriminating between weaker and stronger debtors, with powerhouse Germany paying less interest on its bonds than the rest of Europe.

US stocks swung lower Thursday after the jobless and construction figures and amid persistent worries on company earnings. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 2.20 percent in early trade.

In Europe, London's FTSE 100 index closed down 0.19 percent. Paris fell 1.24 percent, while Frankfurt lost 0.98 percent.

Asian stocks rose Thursday in a technical bounce despite the miserable economic data.


London shares finish down off earlier highs (AFP)

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 | Finance News

London stocks finished down slightly on Thursday as heavy losses for British Telecom and Barclays wiped out earlier highs.

The FTSE 100 index finished down 0.19 percent to 4,052.23 points.

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) was the most traded stock, seeing 248 million units change hands, followed by Vodafone which saw 187 million shares switch owners.

Among the gainers were Lloyds banking group, rising 4 pence -- or 8.87 percent -- to finish at 49.1, followed by Amlin, climbing 16.75 pence -- or 4.44 percent -- to stand at 394.

Barclays was the top casualty, slipping 6.9 pence -- or 10.4 percent -- to finish at 59.2. Next was BT, shedding 11.2 pence -- or 9.11 percent -- to end at 111.8.

Meanwhile, the pound continued its slide against the dollar and the euro.

Sterling was worth 1.0605 euros at 1558 GMT, down from 1.0723 at Wednesday's close, and fell to 1.3739 dollars from 1.4016 over the same period.